Sunday, April 09, 2006


Lacrimae nobis deerunt ante quam causae dolendi. Non vides, qualem nobis vitam rerum natura promiserit, quae primum nascentium hominum fletum esse voluit? Hoc principio edimur, huic omnis sequentium annorum ordo consentit. Sic vitam agimus, ideoque moderate id fieri debet a nobis, quod saepe faciendum est... Nulli parcendum est rei magis quam huic, euius tam frequens usus est.

Our tears will fail us before that which causes us pain. Can't you see what kind of life nature has bequeathed to us, that decrees the first human act of the newborn to be weeping? With such an act we are brought forth and all the following years are so patterned. Thus we carry out our lives, and so that thing ought to be done with moderation that is often done... Nothing should be more economically used than that which is so frequently needed.

-Seneca's "To Polybius on Consolation" (IV.3; ESS 2-367)

I find myself lamenting the state of the Church quite often, both aloud to others and quietly to myself. Seneca wisely reminds us that "our tears will fail us before that which causes us pain."

This reading occurs following Seneca's advice to Polybius that he refrain from mourning that serves no useful purpose. It is natural for Christians - especially those who are very concerned about their Church - to lament the problems that plague her both within and without. The question that should be asked often is: Does this lamentation serve a purpose?

Often lamentation does serve a purpose. It gives very human expression to the deepest hurts and injustices that our world is filled with. Christ Himself lamented over the state of Jerusalem during Holy Week - the city "that kills the prophets and stones those that are sent to it." His ministry, however, was not a continuous lamentation. He took time to engage in sorrowful and public reflection; He did so in a way that spoke condemnation and judgment on His opponents so that "when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them." In short, Christ lamented in a useful manner, and was not distracted from His profitable labour.

Jesus lamented well. As we are oft reminded: we are not Jesus. It is very easy for sinful people to fall into the trap of lamenting INSTEAD OF working and calling it "a prophetic ministry." It is very easy to fall into the HABIT of lamentation. Seneca wisely points out that something so often necessary as lamentation should be engaged in economically, sparingly, miserly. The tears of lamentation, if over-indulged, eventually run dry and leave only bitter and angry persons. We should all guard against this.

Seneca also advises Polybius that there are many causes for tears, and that any human being can find countless causes for sorrow without searching long or hard. So many are the legitimate grievances that surround mankind that a certain relative value should draw forth lamentation, lest the mourner look foolish. After all, what is it to mourn a missed meal while overlooking the countless children who starve to death every day in this world? What is it to lament the splitting of a congregation and overlook the countless splitting families that sit in that congregation's pews every week?

The Church is both Divine and Human. It suffers from many causes for lamentation both within and without. Nevertheless, we should be sparing with our tears. We should use our cries wisely. Discipline fails, self-seeking clergy bring shame on the Church, absolution becomes promiscuous, tradition is despised, and the list could go on forever; Seneca observes that there simply isn't enough time nor have we enough tears to lament them all. Let us pause to weep - even complain - but no more than is useful. Always, when our lamentation is complete, our tears are dried, and our mourning is ended, we should draw a deep breath and take up our cross and follow Christ as He walks through the city of lamentation this Holy Week. There is time for human weeping, but there is also work to be done.


"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"
-St. Matthew the Evangelist (23:37-39)


Der Bettler said...

For what it's worth, this Sunday's (April 9) Lutheran Hour message has a rather lengthy quote from Seneca about the gruesomeness of crucifixion as a means of execution.

Lucilius said...

Thanks for the heads up!